Passage Safety I: Boat Handling & Communications

Thanks to our friend Laura on Just A Minute for putting the question out there in response to our FAQ- looking for elaboration on safety precautions and procedures for long offshore passages. Jamie’s email back to her got really long, so I’m breaking it into some more digestible chunks for the blog.

As always… fellow cruisers, what would you add?

Boat Handling

Hats, yes, but no socks yet.
Niall & Jamie staying attached to Totem

1. Be diligent about wearing a PFD and/or safety harness. Truthfully, we didn’t always wear them, but common sense prevails. At night, in weather, and anytime you leave the cockpit- no matter how short the time or how close the distance. Two people were lost off boats when we were in Vanuatu, the kind of reminder nobody wants to hear. Fundamentally, they weren’t attached, and stuff happened. For prep, discuss with your sailing partner(s) so everyone is on the same page about usage and what’s OK.

2. Setup/use a boom preventer.

3. Know how/when to reef/unreef in different wind angles/strengths. Reefing at night, when you’re tired, in a squall, going downwind tends to be more challenging.

4. Figure out likely chafe spots (lines and sails) and plan ahead for what you’ll to too reduce it- and how you’ll handle it if there’s meaningful wear during the passage.

5. Seize all shackles, meaning… don’t forget those mainsheet block shackles, etc.

6. Use strops (loops made of webbing or line). Jamie is a huge fan of these and they have been really, really useful on Totem. Have one ready for us on the boom should the mainsheet, preventer, reef block, etc. fail . In addition to webbing, ¼” Spectra is useful for smaller diameter strops, should shackles fail. We made three strops between Mexico and the Marquesas to deal with various gear failures, and used several more as part of normal boat handling.

7. Tie down everything on deck. While you’re at it, make sure the deck is as absolutely clear as possible.

8. Don’t trust lifelines. Not even going to get into not trusting netting on lifelines. Just… don’t.


Niall checks in
Niall checks into the ‘net underway

1. We liked staying in touch via SSB. The PPJ net was sometimes tedious just because of the volume of boats, but we never missed listening. The PACSEA net is the hands down best net in terms of efficiency and dealing with emergencies. We’ve said it before, but these are the guys you want watching your back! We also had mini-nets with closer friends. If you haven’t participated in nets before, it helps to begin listening and practicing with checking in before you take off to get a feel for it.

2. Tell friends/family the passage plan before departing. Designate a shore side emergency contact that understands passages. Then if your parents get nervous about not hearing from you, they call the contact rather than initiating a CG search. It’s important to communicate that being out of contact or being “overdue” doesn’t mean there is a problem. You have ways of communicating problems (EPIRB, SSB, etc). We always update the notes field in our EPIRB registration with details about the passage, too- dates, destinations, etc.

On a related note: we posted blog updates daily underway to the Marquesas. My parents recieve these posts via email, and could feel more comfortable knowing that although they couldn’t reach us directly- we were OK. Great, until our SSB stopped working! PREPARE YOUR FAMILY, so they don’t freak out if they suddenly stop hearing from you- because things are probably just peachy!

There is lots of room to expand on communication suggestions depending on the use of sat phones, SPOT (which we dropped after Mexico because it doesn’t sufficiently cover the Pacific islands… as in, it mostly doesn’t cover them), dolphin carriers, notes in bottles and the perennial favorite, mid-Pacific smoke signalling.

Next time… dealing with fatigue.

8 Responses

  1. I am very interested in seeing a strop rigged the way you use them. I have an idea and assume it is a prevention tool but not sure.

    This is a great blog entry, thanks for sharing.

  2. B, thx. We’re trading off here on the technical articles heh?

    Extension of your PFD/harness bullet – Run safety line down both sides of the boat from front to back. Test accessibility with PFD/safety harness/safety line to every corner and system on the boat while in a nice quiet anchorage. We discovered one night underway that we couldn’t reach a key part of the main sail cover. Not a really good moment for Don Quixote crew.

  3. Okeebc, we’ll dig up some pictures for you to illustrate and post to the blog. D&C, anytime! Toast, OMG no I do not write articles, just reply to questions, ruminate, and regurgitate. My 3 Rs. 😉 Articles sound like work and good grammar! For the curious, I have much better grammar and complete thinking in the articles Jamie & I write for 48 North (link from right nav). As far as running lines- yes, jacklines or whatever you want to call them are part & parcel of the whole tether and staying attached to the boat thing. Trying to keep this to bullets… or it will be endless.

  4. Hi Behan and Jaime,
    Thanks so much for your response to my question. I really appreciate the details.
    Can you believe I am sitting through a blizzard in Iowa – snowing heavily, 50 mile per hour wind, and in the low teens with wind chill!?!! Yikes! Looking forward to getting back to the boat and keep prepping.

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